Mission can be a complicated business; I’ve just spent four years researching and writing a thesis discussing some of the complexities. What exactly is the relationship between proclamation and social action? How do you define unreached peoples (and should you be defining them anyway)? What is the best strategy for short-term mission? The questions go on and on. Books are written, sermons are preached and strategy papers are carefully developed then filed away and forgotten.
Now don’t get me wrong, this stuff is important… well, important-ish.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8)
It might seem obvious, but when we want to discuss what mission is, what it isn’t and what it should be, the best place to turn is the Bible. This short statement by Jesus shortly before his ascension is particularly key.
True to form, we tend to get hung up on the strategic details; what exactly are the modern equivalents of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. You don’t have to dig very deep into mission books and sermons to find various schemes that will explain where these places are for you, today. However, we tend to spend less time thinking about what we should do when we get to those places; witnessing to Jesus in the power of the Spirit.
If you want a good, short definition of mission, you can’t do much better than this. If you feel this is insufficiently Trinitarian, you could add a little phrase which isn’t in the original, but which is consistent with the whole of Scripture.
Mission is witnessing to Jesus in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God the Father.
Everything else, all the discussions about strategy and such like are secondary to this simple reality. Mission is about bearing witness to Jesus; telling his story and pointing people to him. Everything else is just details.
Mission must involve some sort of verbal proclamation; you can’t witness to Jesus without telling people about him. This might happen in church, in the classroom, in quiet discussions in a coffee shop, over the airwaves or internet or in print – but words have to be involved. In almost all situations, mission must also involve some sort of actions; these might be planned and organised such as running a clinic in Jesus’ name, or they might be spontaneous, helping a friend in need. Our actions either reinforce or completely undermine our words – by their fruits, you will know them.
Our mission might be translating the Bible in Central Africa, planting a church in an Asian megacity or supporting refugees in Southern Europe; our real job is to witness to Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Our day to day words and actions are every bit as important as the planned, organised activities. We can preach the best sermon, or give the most accurate translation of a verse, but this is undermined if our lives and actions do not consistently point people to Jesus.
When we lose sight of this, we lose the whole point of mission.